What do you think about multisite churches? Odds are that you’ve at least thought about this question and formulated somewhat of an opinion. In the current Evangelical landscape that we are in today, multisite churches have only continued to gain traction over the past decade. It’s almost impossible to avoid this topic and debate. But even within the term “multisite,” there are several additional questions and disagreements that can be had. What about video preaching versus live preachers? What role does the campus pastor play? Where does the locus of power ultimately reside? Should the “campuses” be confined to a city or general region, or can the spread reach much further? And on the topic of campuses, is that even what we should call them? Or should we call them churches? The multisite debate is much more complex and multifaceted than perhaps it initially leads on.
A New Book
A new book by Brad House and Gregg Allison attempts to explore the future of multisite churches and propose an alternative approach to what we typically think about when we think about multisite. The book is called MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multisite. The alternative approach that they are suggesting goes by the same name as the title — MultiChurch. Both Allison and House serve as pastors at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY — a church which has put this model of multisite into practice for several years now.
The Initial Groundwork
In the first few chapters of the book, the authors lay down some initial groundwork by examining the terrain of multisite — where are the existing paths and what are the dangerous places to avoid? In these chapters, the authors present their biblical argument for the acceptability of a multisite model as well as examine the historical and contemporary developments within the multisite movement. Interacting with some of the top authors arguing against the acceptability of multisite, the authors argue that there is simply no consistent biblical argument to make such a case. In fact, on the opening page of the second chapter they say, “The very first Christian church was a multisite church” (31).
Whether you agree with their exegesis and theological conclusions or not, what I appreciated in these introductory chapters was a willingness by the authors to engage with the biblical text and those who disagree with them. They did not approach the subject from pure pragmatic approach — “Multisite works” — but from a biblical, theological, and historical approach. And in so doing, the authors are honest and clear about many of the abuses, challenges, and pitfalls that many of the most prominent and typical multisite models suffer from.
The Various Models
Not all multisite churches are created equal. Perhaps you have experienced more than one model, or perhaps you thought all multisite churches use video screens to pipe in the preaching and a campus pastor to take care of the day to day pastoral functions throughout the week. But in the third chapter of the book, the authors discuss seven different church models — five of which form a spectrum of multisite expressions. The chart below shows the models discussed
Over the next 30 pages of the book, the authors briefly describe each of these models, including a description of the model, where the locus of power resides, the strengths of the model, and finally the weaknesses of the model. The next chapter addresses many of the “landmines” for those models on the multisite spectrum, addressing many of the caricatures as well as the legitimate concerns and issues that can plague them.
The “Cooperative Model,” defined as “one church made up of multiple independent churches” is the model that the authors are proposing, the model that Sojourn Community Church employs, and the model that they outline practically and thoroughly in the second half of the book.
The MultiChurch Model
In the words of the authors, the second section of the book “breaks down the steps to developing healthy multichurch, specifically looking at five critical areas that need to be reenvisioned for your church to move into the future with confidence. We will examine the organization as a whole and specifically its polity, ministry, finances, and membership” (117). What follows, then, are five chapters, each dealing with one of these five specific issues.
If you are a church that is looking to pursue this multichurch model, these chapters will prove to be critical and immensely helpful for you in thinking through the nuts and bolts of what lies ahead. But if you’re like me — not in a church even remotely moving in this direction but just reading because of curiosity — you will probably find these chapters both intriguing and overwhelming. They were intriguing because I have never experienced a multisite church structure like this. But they are overwhelming because there is a lot of information and a lot of detail about the specific practices and implementations of Sojourn Community Church.
Not Everything Matters
Even though I am one of the ones reading the book out of curiosity, and even though I found much of the information to be both intriguing and overwhelming, I still found myself incredibly helped in several practical ways.
One such section that was helpful was in chapter 6 where the authors discussed one of three maxims that they operate by — Everything Cannot Matter. The authors propose a chart divided into four quadrants, separated by the level of conviction and the level of urgency. They then take every ministry or concern of the local church and put them in one of these four quadrants. This allows them, as a leadership, to spend the bulk of their time and energy on those things that they hold with firm conviction and which they see as demanding the utmost urgency. I found this section so helpful for myself because, if I’m not careful, I can definitely lean to the side of “Everything matters,” and in so doing, make a mountain out of a molehill and every hill worth dying upon.
Whether you are leading a church considering such a transition, curious about the multisite movement in general, or specifically interested in this multichurch model that Sojourn employs, I believe that you will find this book very helpful, intriguing, and insightful. Whether you agree completely with the theological convictions that the authors come to regarding the local church and its polity, I believe that you will find two men that represent a church that is serious about the Bible, the local church, equipping the people of God, and reaching the world. I appreciated the authors’ refusal to argue pure pragmatic methodology, but a willingness to seriously engage with the Bible, theology, history, and contemporary concerns about the multisite model.
While I for one have been largely opposed to the multisite movement as I’ve traditionally encountered it and understood it, I found the multichurch model suggested and explained in this book to be quite intriguing. While I wouldn’t say that I’m fully sold, I can say that the authors succeeded in at least moving me a step in that direction. If you asked me before I read this book the question posed at the beginning — “What do you think about multisite churches” — I would say I don’t like them. After reading this book, I’d at least have to start by asking, “What do you mean by multisite?”
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Zondervan Publishers for providing me a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.